Today in Texas History – Jan 11

From the Annals of Criminal Justice    In 1954, the landmark appeal styled Hernández v. the State of Texas was brought before the United States Supreme Court.  Hernandez is considered to be the only Mexican-American civil rights case decided by the Court in the post-war era.

Pedro Hernandez, a Mexican-American agricultural worker, was convicted by an all-white jury in Jackson County for the 1950 murder of Joe Espinosa. Hernandez’s pro bono legal team, led by Gustavo C. Garcia,  wanted to use Hernandez’s conviction as a test case to challenge “the systematic exclusion of persons of Mexican origin from all types of jury duty in at least seventy counties in Texas.”  The appeal was based on the established practice of systematically excluding Mexican Americans, a recognized minority in Texas, from service on grand juries and juries.  The evidence showed that although numerous Mexican Americans were citizens and had otherwise qualified for jury duty in Jackson County, during the previous 25 years no Mexican Americans were among the 6,000 persons chosen to serve on juries.  This was a violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as juries were restricted by ethnicity.  The Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of Hernandez, and required he be retried by a jury composed without discrimination against Mexican Americans. The Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment protects persons beyond the racial classes and applies to discrimination based on nationality groups as well.

Photo of Pedro Hernandez with his attorneys Gustavo Garcia and Johnny Herrera.

 

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